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Opioid Painkillers Linked with Higher Risk of Birth Complications

New research from Vanderbilt University Medical Center suggests that women who take prescribed opioids during pregnancy may increase their respective infants’ risk of a variety of serious birth complications.

Ed Jones, Modern Readers, Apr 15, 2015

By compiling the data collected by TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid program, over the course of three years, the team of experts identified a worrying link between opioid use and NAS.

The records of some 111,000 pregnant women were examined for the purposes of the study, of whom around 28% were taking opioid pain relievers prescribed by their doctors.

“We found that babies exposed to opioids pain relievers were more likely to be born preterm, have complicated births, low birth weight and have complications such as meconium aspiration syndrome (a sign of infant distress at birth) and respiratory distress,” wrote Stephen Patrick, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Health Policy in the Division of Neonatology with the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

“Not all babies exposed to opioids have drug withdrawal after birth for reasons that aren’t entirely clear,”

“Our study found that several things increased an infant’s risk, including the duration of opioid use, the type of prescription opioid, how many cigarettes a woman smoked and if they used a common antidepressant medicine called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.”

The researchers compared the cases of women who were prescribed opioid painkiller or obtained the drugs illegally to that that did not use any opioids at all during pregnancy. They spoke with concern over the apparently correlation between opioid use and birth complications, which are apparently being fuelled by the nation’s rapidly accelerating use of opioid painkillers obtained both illegally and at street level.

Official statistics suggest that upward of 259 million opioid prescriptions have been given out in the US alone, with annual use having increased 400% over recent years.

“All in all we hope the study garners the attention of state and federal policy makers to highlight that the prescription opioid epidemic is having a tangible impact on both mothers and infants,” reported the researchers.

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